Gone are the days when the man of the house would send one of his children to a local bar with a few coins and a pail to be filled with beer for their old man. The container was called a “growler,” supposedly because the sloshing beer rattled the lid of the pail and made a grrrrrr sound. The run to the bar on this errand was known as “rushing the growler.”
In time, affordable packaging gave consumers other options for drinking beer at home. Larger breweries could distribute their beer in bottles and cans; smaller breweries saw their beers available on-premise only. Sometime early in the 20th century, the growler became obsolete.
Around 1989, the growler reappeared, driven by the needs of small craft breweries. As one story goes, brewer Charlie Otto realized that his brewery, Otto Brothers in Wyoming, was too small to afford a bottling line. To please customers who wanted to take his beer home, he provided half-gallon cider jugs, silk-screened with the company’s logo. Thus, the hygienic, refillable modern growler was born.
Today, “rushing the growler” takes on a different meaning. Now, the rush describes the growing number of retailers adding dedicated growler-filling stations to their businesses. Filling growlers for customers is less often a courtesy provided by the neighborhood bar—and certainly no longer an errand entrusted to children—and more commonly a new service at the local retailer or bottle shop.
The two Half Time Beverage locations in New York boast the largest selection and the biggest beer retail space in the world. The stores started filling growlers 16 years ago because, even with a beer selection that numbers in the thousands of brands, growlers gave customers additional choices.
“Not all beers are available in bottles or cans,” explains Half Time’s president, Alan Daniels. “Some beers are keg only, and typically the keg-only beers are coming from one of two situations: the first being a brewery that’s too small and can’t afford a canning line or a bottling line.”
The other situation is when a brewery decides to limit a beer to draft-only because it is a seasonal or a limited release. “We go crazy four to six times a year and put stuff up that draws a lot of people in,” Daniels says. “Nobody else is getting those kegs, because we’re buying that brewery’s product 12 months, 52 weeks per year, and when they’re releasing their special beers we’re on their list.”
Chris Creech, owner of The Glass Jug in Durham, NC, knows that local beers and a rotating selection have made his store a regular stop for customers. “They have one or two growlers and they come in every Thursday or every Saturday,” he says. ‘They’ll sit down and have a flight, pick up whatever is new on draft, and take a growler home with them for the week.”
Technology Fills a Need
Many growler operations stick with traditional methods, filling growlers directly from beer taps. This option is the most affordable, allowing retailers to fill growlers, and also pour pints or samples for customers (where the law allows) from the same system.
Shortly after he helped change Delaware’s laws to permit growler sales, Ed Mulvilhill of Peco’s Liquor Store in Wilmington had a growler system installed. “We have a 16-tap direct draw system, keg box on the bottom with two towers with eight taps on each tower, and we use the gravity feed growler tubes to fill them,” he explains. “Our two eight-tap systems were $3,500 each – delivered, installed and ready to go. We had them bought and paid for within a month from increased sales.”
He’s confident that growler stations will proliferate, especially with the cost of entry so low. But, he adds, “You could buy a kegerator system for a couple hundred bucks and have just two draft offerings. It’s not necessary to have a ton of taps. We wanted to do that, but a lot of other retailers have three or four taps and they’re having a lot of success, too.”